Ketogenic Diets And Sports Performance

Low carbohydrate diets and ketogenic diets have become very popular in recent years because of the results they have achieved in obese subjects and in many people whose main objective was muscle definition and fat loss.

Research has shown that low-carbohydrate diets tend to work in terms of weight loss and improving certain parameters related to health. However, there are contradictions in the tests regarding muscle growth, strength and performance.

What are low carbohydrate diets and ketogenic diets?

The first thing we should know is that these diets have a lot in common with the paleo diet .

The low – carbohydrate diets are usually those whose energy provided by carbohydrates is less than 30% of the total. Most of these diets contain amounts of carbohydrates ranging between 50 and 150 grams per day, a large amount of protein and a moderate amount of fat, although the amounts of carbohydrates tend to vary depending on the needs of the athlete.

On the other hand, a ketogenic diet is usually more restrictive, and usually consists of only 30-50 grams of carbohydrates a day. This low amount of carbohydrates can help you achieve a state of ketosis, a state where ketones and fats become the main sources of energy for our body.

In many low carbohydrate and ketogenic diets, people often avoid foods such as cereals, legumes, tubers and some fruits.

The different types of ketogenic diets

There are several versions of the ketogenic diets, among which are:

  • The standard ketogenic diet: this usually contains 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbohydrates.
  • The cyclic ketogenic diet: this diet implies refeeds (days higher in carbohydrates) followed by several days of ketogenic feeding. An example would be five ketogenic days followed by two days in which the carbohydrates increase.
  • The ketogenic diet focused: this method allows you to add carbohydrates, usually in the moments close to exercise or intense workouts.

How is energy used in ketogenic diets?

During this type of diet, the body usually becomes more efficient when using fat as a metabolic fuel. This process is known as adaptation to fat. The reduction of carbohydrates causes an increase in ketone bodies, which are produced in the liver from fatty acids.

These ketone bodies can provide energy in the absence of carbohydrates, during a prolonged fast, during prolonged exercise or in people suffering from type 1 diabetes if it is not controlled correctly. The rest of the energy is obtained through gluconeogenesis, a process by which the body converts fats and proteins into glucose.

What are the benefits of following a ketogenic diet?

Ketogenic diets have certain health benefits. In some cases they are usually used to treat diabetes, some neurological disorders, and certain types of cancer and reduce some risk factors in heart and respiratory problems.

The adaptation to fats in a ketogenic diet is very efficient. One study found that some endurance athletes who followed a ketogenic diet burned up to 2.3 times fatter in a 3-hour exercise session than the group that followed a high-carbohydrate diet.

Despite the benefits that ketogenic diets bring to health, there is currently controversy over how these diets can affect athletic performance.

Low carbohydrate diets and sports performance

As we have seen, research shows that fat provides more energy at low intensities and carbohydrates provide more energy at high intensities.

Recently it was wanted to verify if a diet low in carbohydrates could alter this effect. A study was conducted in which it was found that athletes with ketogenic diets burned mainly fat in up to 70% of the intensity, against only 55% in athletes who followed diets high in carbohydrates, while the normal is that carbohydrates begin to be used mainly from 60% of the intensity of the exercise. Anyway, more research is needed before making more recommendations.

However, research has found that low-carbohydrate diets can help prevent fatigue during prolonged exercise. They can also help you lose fat and improve health without compromising the performance of low and moderate intensity exercise.


This type of diet can be a good option for healthy people, although there is no solid evidence that these diets improve performance compared to high-carbohydrate diets.

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